This is Ireland 2019: the anguished life and death of Stacey Ring
Mum of three made plea for more help in the weeks before her death, writes Alan O'Keeffe
Stacey Ring was only 31 when she was found dead on the couch in her apartment. A verdict at her inquest would declare it was "death by misadventure".
A combination of "methadone toxicity" and therapeutic levels of prescription medications "tipped her over the edge" to cause "acute respiratory depression", said pathologist Dr Charles d'Adhemar.
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No evidence emerged at her inquest in Mullingar last Tuesday of past suicide attempts.
The coroner's court did not hear that six weeks before her death, Stacey Ring posted three videos on social media. She informed viewers she had just survived a suicide attempt in which she had thrown herself into the River Shannon in Athlone on September 30 last.
Her video pleas were for better psychiatric care for people undergoing methadone treatment for drug addiction. She asked that TDs heed her plea and called on the public to share the video.
Her cousin, Stephen Ring (34), is a former vice-chairman of the Limerick Treaty Suicide Prevention Group which regularly patrols the banks of the Shannon in Limerick.
"It's extra hard for me to think that my cousin Stacey went into the Shannon in Athlone. It happened while I was a member of a group that volunteers to prevent suicides along the same river in Limerick," he told the Sunday Independent.
Stephen joined Stacey's parents, Oliver and Joan, this weekend to call for improved psychiatric services for people with drug addictions.
Stacey made the videos on her mobile phone while inside two hospitals. She said in the videos she believed her need for daily methadone treatments were an obstacle to her chances of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital as an in-patient. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she expressed anguish and desperation at being plagued with suicidal thoughts every couple of months.
Stacey had moved to Athlone from Limerick with her family when she was a schoolgirl. Later, she developed a drugs problem. Both she and her partner, Tony, both developed serious drug problems. Her parents took over the care of Stacey's three children.
Stacey found her partner dead beside her in the bed one morning almost four years ago. She ended up living in a hostel and finally was housed by Westmeath County Council in an apartment in Mullingar.
She had succeeded in coming off drugs and was a participant in a methadone treatment programme. She would take her daily dose of methadone in a pharmacy. She sometimes got possession of extra methadone elsewhere.
She said she suffered mental problems and had been seen by psychiatrists and counsellors over the years. She spoke of having made a number of suicide attempts.
Following the incident in the River Shannon in Athlone last September, she was taken by ambulance to Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe where she was seen by a psychiatrist.
She was transferred to St Loman's psychiatric hospital in Mullingar and was seen by a number of health professionals. While at both hospitals, she uploaded the videos saying she was feeling dissatisfied with her care.
She said she felt people who had drug addiction and mental health problems did not get the same treatment as those without addiction problems. Later, she was supplied with a taxi which drove her to her parents' house in Athlone where she stayed for a number of weeks.
At her inquest, her friend Elaine Lardner, who was staying with Stacey, said Stacey had gone to sleep on a couch in the Mullingar apartment on the night of November 12. Stacey had taken methadone that day and a sleeping tablet.
Ms Lardner had dozed off for a while and later, when she checked on Stacey, she found her unresponsive with a brown stain around her mouth.She tried to resuscitate her and screamed for help and thought "half of Mullingar" must have heard her. She ran to the downstairs flat where their friend Joe Flynn lived. He also tried to help. Paramedics and gardai arrived and a doctor pronounced her dead.
Ms Lardner told Coroner Raymond Mahon she did not believe Stacey had taken her own life and she believed her death was accidental.
Her father, Oliver Ring, said in a statement read in the court that Stacey was "in good form" the last time he spoke with Stacey three days before she died. She said she was planning to buy a PlayStation for her son.
He said her son and two daughters lived with him and his wife Joan. He said Stacey had been living in hope for the day she was well enough to get her children back.
The coroner told the jury there was no evidence presented to the inquest that Stacey intended to end her life that night. Indeed, "there was evidence to the contrary", he said. The jury delivered a verdict of death by misadventure.
Stacey's mother Joan told this newspaper her daughter had been "so depressed" for a long time. She agreed with her daughter that people with drug problems did not get the same quality of psychiatric care as other patients.
While the HSE does not comment on individual cases, a spokeswoman said: "In general, patients who have mental health difficulties and are on methadone are admitted to HSE-run psychiatric hospitals if admission is indicated. Each centre would have individual policies as to how methadone can be administered locally."
- If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact Samaritans helpline 116 123 or Aware helpline 1800 80 48 48 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247.